Of ants and packets
August 29, 2012 12:41 PM   Subscribe

The Anternet is always up. On the surface, ants and the Internet don't seem to have much in common. But two Stanford researchers have discovered that a species of harvester ants determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for the transfer of data.

Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, is an algorithm that manages data congestion on the Internet, and as such was integral in allowing the early web to scale up from a few dozen nodes to the billions in use today. Here's how it works: As a source, A, transfers a file to a destination, B, the file is broken into numbered packets. When B receives each packet, it sends an acknowledgment, or an ack, to A, that the packet arrived.

This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.

It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. Gordon has found that the rate at which harvester ants – which forage for seeds as individuals – leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.


It turns out that the ants also use mechanisms similar to timeouts and TCP slow-start.

The original paper is available in its entirety here. (via the always-excellent Grist)
posted by jquinby (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So this is what Ponder Stibbons has been goin on about!
posted by Biblio at 12:46 PM on August 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Bless you, Internet.

Blinternet.
posted by griphus at 12:48 PM on August 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


(upon reading tfa, this is really cool)
posted by Biblio at 12:48 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anthill Inside.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:51 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frugal reverse biomimicry.
posted by infini at 12:53 PM on August 29, 2012


And they all laughed at me when I filled the server room with bowls of sugar water. Who's laughing now?
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:54 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


infinitywaltz: "And they all laughed at me when I filled the server room with bowls of sugar water. Who's laughing now?"

...and where would this be?
posted by workerant at 12:56 PM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


That reminds me, I need to DDOS my pantry ...
posted by tilde at 1:03 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pssh. Henry Pym discovered this long ago.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 1:18 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


At long last I know the guy at CompUSA was just being a dick when he yelled at me for having to clean DDT out of my CD tray.
posted by item at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2012


I already realized this when I saw ants window scaling in my home.
posted by orme at 2:03 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Show me how the throughput drops once you start squishing ants that go out, but never come back and...

I'LL BE THE FIRST TO WELCOME OUR ANT OVERLORDS.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:09 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deborah Gordon, man. I can barely articulate what her research has done to my thinking about society, labour and power dynamics. Ants are such a great case study for humanity, it's no wonder they get appropriated over and over by all kinds of ideologies. EO Wilson is really skilled at using the ant to make us think about the whole planet, but it's Gordon's work that really speaks to the Internet age.
posted by Freyja at 2:30 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read about this very thing a decade or so ago, and passed it along to the networking guys at the dot-com where I worked. Disappointingly, they were not only unamused/unintrigued, but decided that I was weird. I don't think I ever lived that down.

Also: Thanks, ants. Thants,
posted by christopherious at 2:44 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


infinitywaltz: "And they all laughed at me when I filled the server room with bowls of sugar water. Who's laughing now?"
workerant: ...and where would this be?
>> 127.0.0.1
posted by tilde at 2:48 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So this is what Ponder Stibbons has been goin on about!

Biblio, Hex is the first think I thought of, too.

*out of cheese error*
posted by BlueHorse at 5:43 PM on August 29, 2012


Show me how the throughput drops once you start squishing ants that go out, but never come back...

Here.
posted by DU at 7:31 AM on August 30, 2012


Ants never cease to amaze me!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2012


DU, you can't just report a link to a posted article I haven't read in the first place.

Wait. You expected me to /read/ this?

That is *so* cute!
posted by clvrmnky at 10:23 AM on August 30, 2012


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